Carbon monoxide is a fatal gas which has no smell or taste, which means it’s difficult to detect. Breathing in this deadly gas can make you ill and if exposed to a high dosage, can kill you.
In the UK more than 200 people are emitted to hospital with suspected carbon monoxide poisoning which are linked to an average of 50 deaths a year.
Once carbon monoxide is breathed in, it enters your bloodstream and mixes with your haemoglobin (which is part of the red blood cells which carry oxygen) this then forms carboxyhaemoglobin. This means the blood is no longer able to carry oxygen around the body, causing your body’s cells to fail and die.
As well as detecting carbon monoxide poisoning, noticing you have symptoms can also be challenging, especially if it is from low-level exposure.
The most common symptom is a tension type headache; however, these can be linked to other causes which makes it difficult to link it to carbon monoxide poisoning. Other symptoms consist of:
· Tiredness and confusion
· Stomach pain
· Shortness of breath and difficulty breathing
These symptoms are similar to food poisoning and flu; this being said carbon monoxide poisoning doesn’t cause a high temperature (fever).
With increased exposure the symptoms can get worse leading to lose of balance, vision and memory and eventually loss of consciousness. This can happen if exposed to two hours of high levels of carbon monoxide. Other severe symptoms are:
· Vertigo (the feeling that you or the environment around you is spinning)
· Ataxia (loss of physical coordination caused by underlying damage to the brain and nervous system)
· Breathlessness and Tachycardia (a heart rate of more than 100 beats a minute)
· Chest pain
The length of time to recover from carbon monoxide poisoning will depend on how much carbon monoxide you have been exposed to. If it’s low level exposure, you should seek medical advice from your GP and if it’s high level expose, you need to head straight to Accident and Emergency. A simple blood test will notify the level of carbon monoxide you have been exposed to, and if the results are 30% or more your exposure will be classed severe.
Standard oxygen therapy is the treatment for carbon monoxide poisoning, this is 100% oxygen fed through a tight fitting mask. This type of therapy enables the body to quickly replace the carboxyhaemoglobin, this continues until it has decreased by 10%.
Click here for our post on how to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning.